Leadership Perspectives

Four Tips for Adaptability from Wayfair’s CEO Niraj Shah

Becky Doles

As soon as I saw that Niraj Shah, CEO and Co-founder of Wayfair.com would be a speaker at IRCE, I knew I had to attend the session. I may or may not be a hopeless Joss & Main addict, so if Niraj was presenting, I’d be listening. The topic of the session, adaptability, is critical to not only e-commerce merchants, but any online business. The four tips Niraj shared are simple enough to implement across any industry, but make all the difference when it comes to creating a thriving long-term business.

Your employees are the single greatest contributor to your success – so hire smart people and let them use their brains! Wayfair fosters an innovative environment by rewarding smart risk taking, even if it doesn’t always work out.

Make Decisions With The Endgame In Mind
Completely unknown to me, Wayfair (which also owns AllModern.com and Joss & Main) used to have over 200 niche e-commerce sites back when they were CSN Stores. Niraj shared the evolution of the company from individual sites to one cohesive store, including a branding overhaul. Each decision was made with the long-term vision in mind, so even though it meant sacrificing a portion of their profit with each closed site, it allowed them to grow the overarching brand that is now Wayfair. If you’re wondering how this worked out, Wayfair sales were $600mm last year and they raised $200mm in capital.

Multiple Growth Plans
Niraj explained how critical it is to map out different growth plans so you always have an answer to the question,”What’s next?!” While they don’t operate 200 sites anymore, they do have three separate, strong brands that they have spent years growing.

Efficient Spend and Management
You’ve heard our thoughts on bootstrapping – and it was awesome to hear how much Niraj’s mentality mirrored ours. Wayfair bootstrapped for nine years, and the lessons and practices they learned during that time are still very much evident in their current operations. From price negotiation to hiring and training young talent, they get the most out of every dollar. Niraj ended with a line one of his college professors used to say, “Cash is more important than your mother.” Harsh? Yes. Did it get the point across? Absolutely.

How do you make your business adaptable? Any tips that Niraj left out? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.